Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Pre-adolescent boys shall lead the way!

I was watching The Daily Show last week (here it is!), and they had a piece about the "Values Voters Summit," which features conservative Christians talking about politics. They showed a video clip of Michael Swartz, the chief of staff of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) talking about homosexuals. Of course, it's on YouTube:

It's a long video, but Stewart's crew broke down the important stuff: Schwartz says it hasn't been that long since he was "closely associated" with "pre-adolescent boys" (which, come on, sounds really funny, even though I'm sure it was very innocent), and that he finds that boys of that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than "just about any other class of people." They speak badly about homosexuals because "they don't want to be that way." They don't want to "fall into it, and that's a good instinct." As Stewart points out, there's only one thing 10- to 12-year-old boys like less than homosexuals, and that's girls.

Schwartz went on to say that all pornography is homosexual pornography, because it tuens your sexual drives inward. He thinks we can use this to turn boys away from pornography, because if you tell them that if they look at Playboy they'll turn gay, they won't want to look at Playboy!

Oh dear. Good stuff. I know that liberals say really, really idiotic things quite often and do really, really idiotic things quite often, but I always love when conservatives say stuff like this. Liberals, at least, are less concerned with behavior and more with pseudo-science, so they come off as a bit goofily earnest. Conservatives are concerned with behavior, so it's always fun to hear them thunder about it.

Man, politicians are idiots.

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What have we learned - Week 3

Will there be cheesecake in this post? Don't be surprised if there is!

Eagles 34, Chiefs 14. Well, if you have a bad game, make sure you follow it up with a game against Kansas City! This was a shockingly easy game, as Kevin Kolb carved up the Chiefs, the defense stymied Matt Cassel and his crew, and the Eagles cruised. I was never sure why Kolb was getting bashed in the media after his poor performance against Baltimore last year and in the first game this year. After a week of practicing with the first team, he's put up 391- and 327-yard passing games consecutively. He looks very confident and he's standing in and taking the heat well. Plus, LeSean McCoy looked really good, and it makes the continuing drama over Brian Westbrook's health less traumatic. McCoy seems to hit the hole faster than Westbrook does, which is nice. All of this, of course, is mitigated by the fact that it was, after all, the Chiefs, but still - a nice win that they kind of needed. They get a bye, and then they get Tampa at home, Oakland on the road, and Washington on the road before they get the Giants and Cowboys at home. Those are all winnable games.

Lions 19, Washington 14. Surprisingly, the world didn't end at about ten minutes after four this afternoon, when the Detroit Lions won a football game. I actually watched quite a bit of this game, because it was fairly entertaining. A lot of people called this one, which only shows how very awful Washington is. And they looked terrible - for the second straight week, they struggled against what ought to be an inferior opponent, but maybe isn't. Matthew Stafford looked pretty good, and it's looking like Detroit made a good pick with him. I have a feeling Jim Zorn won't be long for this coaching world, as his owner is notoriously short-tempered when it comes to his coaches.

Packers 36, Rams 17. My friend who loves Marc Bulger was a bit grumpy about this game. First, Bulger gets hurt because God forbid the Rams provide him with any protection. Then, Kyle Boller comes in a chucks a couple of quick touchdowns, bringing the Rams back. Ultimately, they lost convincingly, but now the quarterback controversy begins, and my friend isn't happy about it, because Bulger is obviously much better than Boller is. The fact that Bulger toils for a horrible team is sad until you realize that he signed a long-term contract with St. Louis. But it's still kind of a shame that he could be doing much better if the Rams weren't such a dysfunctional organization. Meanwhile, Aaron Rogers continues to make Packer fans forget that other dude they had. Yes, he had a good day today, but long-term, Rogers is the man.

Vikings 27, 49ers 24. Speaking of R. C. Favre, the canonization continues, even though he had less to do with Minnesota's victory than you might think. First, Percy Harvin returned a kickoff for a touchdown, which was huge. Then, the final touchdown was much more Greg Lewis's effort than Favre's pass. San Francisco didn't get much pressure on him, so the fact that he "got away from it" isn't that big a deal (yes, he sidestepped a tackler, but 99% of quarterbacks who've ever played in the NFL could have done that). He had to throw it into the end zone, and he simply hurled it as far as he could. Lewis made a tremendous catch on a pass that just happened to come near him - it wasn't like R. C. found him as he broke open, because Lewis was blanketed. So let's hold off on re-anointing R. C., shall we? It's a good win for the Vikings, but for most of the game, they were winning despite their quarterback, not because of him. And remember that Frank Gore was injured early on, and San Francisco still should have won the game!

Patriots 26, Falcons 10. I watched very little of this game, so I don't know what we learned from it. Maybe we shouldn't count New England dead yet? Maybe we shouldn't proclaim Atlanta as a Super Bowl favorite? Beats me.

Jets 24, Titans 17. This was a pretty exciting game, with New York scoring early and late while Tennessee dominated the middle. It's always nice to see the old-school uniforms (especially the refs'), and on Lendale White's second-quarter touchdown run, the Jets grabbed him by the jersey and pulled, and as he was wearing a Houston Oilers shirt, it looked scarily like Earl Campbell breaking free. I started cheering, "Tear it!" even though they don't tear anymore. But it was pretty cool. The Jets sure look for real, I tell you that much.

Giants 24, Buccaneers 0. Here's another game I skipped completely, because there wasn't going to be much drama, and it turned out there wasn't much drama at all. New York, just like last year, looks like the class of the NFC, but we'll see how that plays out in January, won't we? New York was playing without a couple of their defensive lineman and Tampa still got five (5) first downs (!) and 86 (!) total yards. Yucky.

Ravens 34, Browns 3. Here's one reason why the Browns suck: Trailing 27-0 on the road, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Eric Mangini kicked a field goal. A FIELD GOAL! Why didn't he just pull his team off the field and forfeit? I mean, it's not likely you're going to 27 points in a quarter against Baltimore, but still. It was a 29-yard field goal, too, meaning the Browns had the ball at the 11 or so. Fortune favors the bold, Mangenius! Even if you don't score, that sets the tone for the rest of the season and shows your team that you expect them to step up. Mangini was playing for a tiny goal - not getting shut out. He should have realized the game was lost, and set up a bigger goal - suck it up, Browns players, and stick that damned ball in the end zone! But now you're 0-3, Cleveland, but worse, you have no hope. Good job. Oh, and Joe Flacco is getting scary good.

Jaguars 31, Texans 24. Hey, remember when Houston was a trendy playoff pick? They should stop losing to teams like Jacksonville at home. I probably should have watched more of this game, because Maurice Jones-Drew had another excellent game, but the only thing I saw was Chris Jones's fumble into the end zone with two minutes left, which Jacksonville recovered and which killed Houston's hopes. The Texans are one of those teams with a lot of talent that just hasn't figured out how to stomp on teams that aren't as good as they are yet. Unless they do, they won't go far this season. We'll see.

Bears 25, Seahawks 19. So Jim Mora, Jr. is chucking his kicker under the bus after Olindo Mare missed two (somewhat long) field goals on a beautiful day in Seattle. You stay classy, Mora. I could have sworn winning and losing in football was a team effort. Maybe you shouldn't have worn jerseys that made you look like you were wearing pinnies in high school:

I figured they won the coin toss and took "shirts." I'm surprised Da Bears weren't "skins." Gadzooks.

Saints 27, Bills 7. I watched a lot of this game, until the Saints scored to make it 17-7, at which time it became clear the Bills had no offense to come back (they scored their only points on a fake field goal). It was a nice defensive effort and showed, once again, that no quarterback, even Drew Brees, is unbeatable - the Bills put him under a lot of pressure and knocked him around quite a bit. Terrell Owens didn't catch a pass for the first time in 185 games, and I watched a couple of pass plays called for him. On one deep route, he barely looked back for the ball, and when he did finally see it, he didn't even make an effort for it. I've never liked Owens too much (even when he played for the Eagles), but at least he always made an effort. He's only on a one-year contract, so presumably he's trying to play into a contract with a better team next year. He's not going to get it this way.

Bengals 23, Steelers 20. I guess I should have watched more of the late games, but Mia wanted to watch the Wiggles, and she's quite insistent! I don't know how Carson Palmer and Cincinnati won this game, but good for them! The two Super Bowl teams from last year are both 1-2. I think we expected it from the Cardinals, but not from the Steelers.

Broncos 23, Raiders 3. Oh, Oakland. You're so bad. The good news: JaMarcus Russell completed over half his passes! The bad news: His 12 completions went for 61 yards. Blech. I was listening to the radio this morning, and Colin Cowherd and Trent Dilfer were pooh-poohing Denver's 3-0 record. Of course they got hate mail, but they have a point: They've beaten Cincinnati (on a miracle play), Cleveland (who's terrible), and Oakland (who's very terrible). It's nice that they're 3-0, but let's not start printing playoff tickets yet.

Chargers 23, Dolphins 13. Philip Rivers throws a nice deep ball, I'll tell you that much. His completions in the second half: 47 yards, 19 yards, 55 yards, 15 yards, 14 yards, and the two long passes were real purty. Of course, CBS kept showing scenes of San Diego, which made me think: If you lived in San Diego, why would you waste your afternoon attending a football game? Dang, that's a nice city. And Chad Pennington is out for the season. Miami's season last year is looking more and more like a mirage.

Colts 31, Cardinals 10. Some radio guys in town were predicting a Cardinals win on Friday, mainly because they thought Kurt Warner could keep up with Peyton Manning. They failed to realize that you don't beat the Colts by keeping up with Manning, you beat the Colts by not letting Manning on the field. Miami almost did it, but they didn't have the offensive firepower to finish the deal. Arizona needed long, sustained drives capped off by touchdowns, and then they turned the ball over twice inside the Colts' 10-yard line. They didn't need to get in a shootout with Manning, because Manning loves that. And the Cardinals gave up way too early on the run game, probably because they wanted to get in a shootout. Just a bad game plan all around. Oh well. I figured Arizona would fall back to Earth this season, and they are. Of course, it's not like they were that great last year - they could still go 8-8 this year and it wouldn't that big a dropoff. They're still far too undisciplined to be a consistent winner.

I'd write about college football, but nobody knows nothing, so what would I have to say? I thought Penn State was way overrated, but I also didn't think they'd stink up the joint so badly on offense. I kept wanting them to score just one more touchdown, because Iowa's offense wasn't doing anything. When Daryll Clark threw the interception on the first drive of the second half, I told Krys, "They're going to lose." After that, it was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. There just aren't any great teams in the country - the top three, Florida, Texas, and Alabama are close, but they're still beatable. Cal isn't ready for prime time, Miami got their swagger back without learning that those old Hurricane teams had the swagger because they were better than everyone, and LSU barely beat Mississippi State, for crying out loud. At this rate, it will be Cincinnati versus Boise State in the National Championship Game, and I think I might have to root for that, because maybe then the college presidents will get a playoff together, because no one will watch that game (sorry, Woody!, but it's true). Who knows what craziness will ensue this week? Will the Lions lose at Illinois? Will Arizona go to Washington and knock off the Huskies? Will Cal beat USC now that the pressure is off? Will Michigan State get their heads out of their asses and beat Michigan? We'll see!

More body-painted young ladies here. It seems like a really uncomfortable way to show off your bod, but we appreciate the effort!

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Why didn't I love Inglourious Basterds?

I saw Quentin Tarantino's newest movie last week. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Really. But it was kind of like junk food, wasn't it?

I got in a bit of an argument with the guy at my comic book store about this. I told him that after we saw Inglourious Basterds, I couldn't figure out what the point was. He told me it didn't need a point. But I disagree! Yes, this is America! Disagreement is the spice of life!

Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed it. I just wrote it above, didn't I? Tarantino certainly knows how to put a movie together, and he's dynamite with actors. He often gets career-best performances out of actors. Brad Pitt is fantastic and funny, Mélanie Laurent is hard-ass and steely, Diane Kruger is wonderfully glamorous, and the Basterds themselves are excellent. Christoph Waltz is getting all the Oscar talk, and he's astonishing as Colonel Hans Landa, the "Jew Hunter." He's amazingly evil and refreshingly civil, except when, stunningly, he's not. The opening scene, when he shows up at a Frenchman's farm looking for a Jewish family, is one of the tensest scenes Tarantino has come up with in years. Waltz does a wonderful job with this utter opportunist, who does his job well but isn't above getting something for himself. Tarantino, naturally, comes up with some excellent action (a Mexican stand-off? in a Tarantino film? you don't say!) and sudden and shocking violence, and he reaches into his usual bag of tricks to twist the narrative around a bit - not as well as he's done in the past, but he's still a very good filmmaker. The grand finale is a wonderful orgy of violence and sly humor, and the final scene is a nice touch. Plus, Mike Myers is hilarious in his brief scene.

So what's my problem? Why can't I love this movie? Well, as I wrote, it's junk food. I couldn't quite figure out why Tarantino made this movie and what he's trying to say. My friend said it doesn't matter, that I should just enjoy it for the entertainment. However, I said that Tarantino has been making movies for almost 20 years, and he hasn't made one with something interesting to say since Jackie Brown, which came out in 1997 (granted, he's only directed two movies in between that one and this one, but still). We know he can make dazzling technical movies and that he can get excellent work out of his actors. Can he do anything else?

Getting back to Inglourious Basterds (and yes, I'm going to SPOIL it, so read no further if you really want to see it clean): What's Tarantino really trying to say? Ultimately, this is Death Wish with better financing and better acting. It's a revenge fantasy, and while I don't have an issue with revenge fantasies per se, Tarantino's last big movie, Kill Bill, was also a revenge fantasy. Revenge obviously plays a big role in all of his movies, to the degree that he's almost pathological about it, but does it need to be the driving force of this movie? We've heard the objections to the movie, about how it distorts history and is therefore disrespectful to Jews, because Tarantino's belief that killing Hitler somehow makes up for the millions slaughtered by the Nazis. I didn't get that - this is like a lot of old-time World War II movies, in which the Holocaust is virtually ignored because it gets in the way of a good action movie. Sure, Tarantino can make an action movie set in World War II in which he gleefully kills the Nazi High Command - I don't have a problem with that. I guess my objection is more with the tone of the movie. Tarantino seems to be far too gleeful about this movie, and it jars with the somewhat serious tone the movie has for a good deal of it. I wasn't particularly uncomfortable with Brad Pitt being a cheery psychopath, for instance - his attitude seems to be the one you need in a horrible war. It just seems like Tarantino, for all his gifts as a filmmaker, simply wants to revel in what he can do instead of trying for something more. If we look at someone like Scorsese, for instance, as an example of someone who has always resisted stereotyping. We might think of him as a director who makes bleak movies often starring Italian-American New York gangsters, but he's made a lot of different kinds of movies - he made The Age of Innocence, The Last Temptation of Christ, After Hours, The Last Waltz, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, for crying out loud. Scorsese is a great director because he doesn't let himself get pigeonholed. Tarantino, it seems, pigeonholes himself.

I suppose I'm not explaining myself very well. Tarantino is a gifted filmmaker, but he's content to mine the movies he saw in his childhood for inspiration and simply update things with tongue in cheek. Inglourious Basterds is a "remake" of an old Italian movie, for instance. I assume that Tarantino has seen the great World War II movies of the 1960s and 1970s, because that's when he was growing up. But even those movies took the war seriously, even if they had some humor. Tarantino takes nothing seriously, apparently, and because he doesn't make straight comedies, he usually falls short of greatness because of this. At least that's what I think. Maybe I'm not getting it across very well. Sorry!

Anyway, Inglourious Basterds is a marvelous movie to watch. I just didn't get enough out of it. Oh well.

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What have we learned - Week 2

Blech. Stupid Eagles. Stupid broken rib of the quarterback. Blech.

Saints 48, Eagles 22. I'm not as bummed out by this game as you might think, even though the Eagles lost by four touchdowns. They played well for most of the first half and then had a horrible two minutes at the end of the half, giving up an easy touchdown with very little time left after tying the game at 10. They kicked a field goal to end the half, but then, in the first three minutes of the second half, they turned it over twice and gave up two quick touchdowns, and the game was pretty much over. So in about five minutes of game time, they gave up 21 points and scored 3, meaning if you take away those five minutes (I know we can't, but work with me!), they lose only 27-19 (plus, of course, the final touchdown was an interception return very late). With a guy making his first career start. Yes, the defense could have played much better, but if McNabb is playing, I think the Eagles win, because they would have been crisper on offense. That being said, Kolb played pretty well (his first interception was awful, but other than that, he didn't make too many mistakes), and next week they get Kansas City at home, and then the bye, and then Oakland at home (when McNabb should be back), so I'm not too worried about losing to a high-powered offensive team like the Saints. And damn, Drew Brees is good. I mean, I've known that for a few years (I'm not sure how, in the age of the Internet, any team can be a "secret," as the Aikman kept saying, and if N'Awlins is a secret, it's probably because the networks only talk about the Cowboys and their new monstrosity, but that's just my opinion, of course), but watching him work for a full game (or at least most of the game; I kept switching channels to better games) is pretty neat to see. Of course, like all good quarterbacks, it really helps if you have a good offensive line, and Brees does. Oh well.

Falcons 28, Panthers 20. This is one of the games I skipped, mainly because other games were better. So I don't have much to say about it. Matt Ryan is still doing well, I guess. Nice draft pick, Falcons!

Vikings 27, Lions 13. I was so jazzed that the Lions were winning this game, 10-0, and then, a little later, I noticed it was 27-10. Well, that sucks. But look! No shots at R. C. Favre!

Bengals 31, Packers 24. I watched a bit of this game, because it was going back and forth nicely. I was amused to see that Chad Johnson found possibly the only Bengals fans outside of Cincinnati in the front row at Lambeau Field so he could do a Lambeau Leap. What are the odds of Bengals fans being at a game in Cincinnati, much less Green Bay? And the ending was pretty exciting, as Cincy had to see last week's game flashing before their eyes again. The Pack made it to the 10-yard line before time ran out. I'd say it was a good job by Cincinnati's defense, but they should thank the clock!

Texans 34, Titans 31. I watched a lot of this game, because it was really exciting. And there were at least two fights between the teams, which was kind of neat. Houston got a lucky touchdown that should have been overturned (the Saints' first touchdown in the second half should have been overturned, as well - what's up with the replay officials?) and a good call on a punt return that was recovered by Tennessee but wasn't technically a fumble (and Titans' fans, who were booing the call, should realize it was the right call, even if they didn't like it). I doubt if most of the country got to see this game, but it was fun to watch, I tells ya. And Chris Johnson had a good day, didn't he?

Raiders 13, Chiefs 10. I doubt if there was enough money in the world to make me watch this game all the way through. How did Oakland win this game? Is JaMarcus Russell ever going to learn how to play quarterback? Will the Eagles please not look past the Chiefs, even though Philly ought to roll them? I don't have the answers to these questions.

Jets 16, Patriots 9. So now we have to listen to how fucking great the Jets are and how fucking Joe Namath-esque Mark Sanchez is and how fucking "good" it is for the NFL when the Jets are decent (why, exactly?). Now, I'm perfectly happy that they smacked around the Cheaters, but I'm going to get sick real quick of the slobbering of the national media just because the Jets are decent again. I'd be worried if I were the Grand Cheater, because except for a few minutes in the Monday night game, New England has looked really bad, and they'd be 0-2 if not for the gift from the Bills. I don't know if Brady is still scared of taking a hit, but New Jersey blitzed him a lot (something every team should have been doing for the past 6-7 years) and he couldn't handle it. Very interesting. We'll see how they recover from this.

Team That Will Soon, We Hope, Not Be Called What They Have Always Been Called 9, Rams 7. What a joke of a game. I watched a few minutes, and Washington kept going up and down the field but couldn't put the ball in the end zone. St. Louis, meanwhile, stinks on ice. I'm not sure why they ever punt the ball. Why not just go nuts and never punt? It's not like you're going to be any worse!

Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17. Kurt Warner had a good game, didn't he? 15 consecutive completions to start the game, a record-setting completion percentage (24 for 26), and a big win in the Eastern time zone, which flummoxed Arizona last year. It's always interesting to see on what plays games change. Arizona was leading 10-3 when the Jaguars lined up for a field goal. I'm not saying that if Jax makes the figgie, they go on to win, but they're still in the game. Instead, the Cardinals block it, Antrel Rolle recovers the block and takes it 83 yards the other way. Instead of 10-6, it's 17-3, and the rout is on. It's interesting also to see a play like that go the Cardinals' way. It seems like those things happen to good teams, whereas a bad team might block the kick, but it would go out of bounds or something. Is Arizona starting to get "good teams'" breaks? The mind boggles!

Bills 33, Buccaneers 20. I watched some of this game, and saw Terrell Owens drop a perfect bomb from Trent Edwards. After picking on his quarterback and kick returner a bit this week, it was nice to see Owens get a beautiful pass and simply drop it. The Bills ought to be 2-0, and they make the AFC East even more interesting.

49ers 23, Seahawks 10. Frank Gore went a bit nuts in this game, gaining 207 yards on only 16 carries, including two long touchdown runs. I watched some of this game, and was astonished that Seattle wasn't winning - they were moving the ball well and stopping San Francisco fairly easily. But then Hasselbeck got injured, and although Seneca Wallace can play a bit, it seemed the life went right out of the Seahawks. Of course, Gore accounted for 14 points with his two long runs, so it's not like the 49ers blew them out of the water. But they are 2-0, with two divisional wins, in a weak division, so maybe, just maybe, this is the year San Francisco returns to the top of the heap in the NFC West. Maybe. It's a long season.

Da Bears 17, Steelers 14. I actually didn't watch any of this game. I did find it humorous that after last week, everyone was saying the Steelers were going to pound Da Bears. Except for Colin "I Was A Teenaged Blowhard" Cowherd, who thought otherwise. His reasoning was sound: Pittsburgh has no running game, they got lucky against Tennessee, Cutler wouldn't be as lousy as he was against the Packers, and Chicago's defense is still pretty good even without Urlacher, plus they would be playing hard to prove it. So this wasn't too surprising. What happened to Pittsburgh's running game?

Broncos 27, Browns 6. Gadzooks, the Browns are lousy. Nice way for Denver to open the season - versus the Bengals and the Browns. And they still needed a miracle finish for their 2-0 start.

Ravens 31, Chargers 26. Everyone keeps talking about the tackle Ray Lewis made on Darren Sproles that basically won the game for Baltimore, but I haven't seen many people talking about the fact that Philip Rivers destroyed Baltimore's pass defense, and even though it's impressive that the Ravens won that game, shouldn't they be worried if Joe Flacco, of all people, doesn't have a great game? I mean, Lewis's single play was good, but I'd be worried about stopping people if I'm Baltimore's defense. And Norv Turner is a lousy coach. Just ... lousy.

Giants 33, Cowboys 31. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! I was rooting for Dallas in this game, actually, so I ought to be disappointed, but can we really be sad when a team rips the heart out of the Cowboys and their fans like that? The orgy of ego that was going on before the game (I didn't watch it, but I saw highlights) and then the awful quarterbacking during the game was just perfect. Jerry Jones cares more about his stadium than his team, and it showed. Tony Romo, as I mentioned last week, had three long throws and little else, and if he didn't get those, he would be ordinary. And he was! Dallas can run the ball a little bit, can't they? Why didn't they do that more?

Colts 27, Dolphins 23. I honestly can't believe Indianapolis won this game. They possessed the ball for less than a quarter!!!! Miami worked their game plan to near-perfection, with one fatal flaw: You must score touchdowns!!!! If they had scored a touchdown instead of a field goal on just one of their scoring drives, they would have won. Instead, they kicked field goals while the Colts, despite the tiny amount of time they had the ball, scored touchdowns, one on a 1-play drive and another on a 4-play drive. That's definitely the way you beat Peyton Manning - keep him off the field - but you have to finish with touchdowns. Still, a good game plan. Maybe other teams will follow it.

Penn State was boring and workmanlike once more, dispatching their third inferior opponent with little fuss. They haven't been tested, but they haven't played anyone either, and I'm a bit worried about Iowa this week, especially as the Hawkeyes beat them last year. But it's in Happy Valley this year, and the Lions should be a bit peeved about last year. USC pulled its typical bad game against an unranked opponent, but it seems like this year, they should be a bit more worried. Cal is quite good and they play the Trojans at home; Oregon also gets to play USC at home, and the Ducks proved they're not as crappy as they looked against Boise State; and Oregon State isn't lousy. Even Arizona State has a fairly good defense, and USC's offense isn't clicking. I really, really hope this is the year USC finally bites it, because I'm sick of Big Eleven teams playing the Rose Bowl in basically the Trojans' back yard. If Cal or Oregon has to travel to the game, maybe it might be fair. Meanwhile, I'm quickly falling in love with Lane Kiffin, the new coach of Tennessee. After Urban Meyer said his team had the flu and that he coached conservatively because Tennessee wasn't "playing to win," Kiffin said, in response to a question about whether he was worried about his players getting the flu, "I don't know. I guess we'll wait, and after we're not excited about a performance, we'll tell you everybody was sick." Kiffin is awesome. The Big East got a big boost from Cincinnati going to Corvallis and beating Oregon State, while the "mid-majors" took a hit when BYU lost to Florida State (boo!) and Oregon beat Utah. It wasn't the greatest week in college football, but there are always exciting games around. And then there was that Notre Dame receiver, Golden Tate, who jumped into the Michigan State band and they simply let him fall to the ground. It was pretty awesome.

Sorry, no cheesecake this week. Maybe next week. Anyway, the biggest thing we've learned this week is that rushing the ball just isn't what it used to be. Miami and Dallas both put up well over 200 yards on the ground, and they both lost. Somewhere Woody Hayes is rolling in his grave.

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What have we learned - Week 1

Well, we learned that the Football Gods are fickle and cruel and are punishing the Eagles for signing Michael Vick. "You wanted Vick?" say the Football Gods. "Fine. We'll take away your other, better quarterback. Suck on it, Eagles fans!" Jesus.

Anyway, it's time for the NFL (college football, you may have noticed, started last week), and let's try to figure things out from one whole week of games. Jumping to conclusions is p-h-u-n! (One thing I don't say enough: Last week, while watching Penn State trounce Akron, I turned to my lovely wife and said, "Damn, I just love watching football!" I forget how much I love watching games when it goes away. Krys is certainly not a football widow; I turn games off all the time - next week I'm going to miss watching the Penn State game, for instance - but I really, really love watching football. Unless McNabb is gone for a long time. Watching Kevin Kolb run that offense was pretty painful.)

(And, to warn you, since these posts run pretty long with a lot of text, I've dropped in some random cheesecake pictures. Just a warning!)

Eagles 38, Panthers 10. When Carolina took the ball to begin the game and went 70 yards in 8 minutes to score a touchdown, I thought everyone's favorite team was in trouble. Luckily, the defense and special teams took some heat off the offense - in one 5-minute span in the second quarter, the Eagles scored 21 points and ran one (1) offensive play - and all went well ... until McNabb decided to score a touchdown in the third quarter and, while lying in the end zone, was hit by a late-entering defensive player and fractured a rib. The defender wasn't penalized, and I'm not sure he should have been, but he was late, and if McNabb misses significant time, I'll be really upset because it wasn't in the middle of a play. I certainly don't want players to pull up when they have a big lead, but it was 31-10 late in the third quarter, so couldn't McNabb have thrown it away and lived to play another day? Sheesh. (It was third down, so I get why he didn't, but a field goal works there, you know!) I wouldn't mind if they were playing a bad offensive team next week and could maybe survive with Kevin Kolb at QB, but they're playing the Saints, who just hung 45 points on Detroit (yes, it's Detroit, I know, but they're still good) and are firing on all cylinders. I hope the home crowd will inspire the defense and that Michael Vick can play in Week 3 and then the bye gives McNabb a chance to recover. As for Jake Delhomme - I've been saying for a few years that he's overrated, and boy howdy, is he proving me right. In his last game (the playoff loss to Arizona), he threw 5 interceptions and fumbled once. Today: 4 interceptions and 1 fumble. He's kind of like Brett Favre (God, I have to write about him for another freakin' year?) but less talented, and that gets him in deep trouble. Last year, it seemed Carolina didn't rely on him as much, and they were successful. Today, once the Eagles decided to play some run defense, they forced Delhomme to throw a lot, and we saw what happened. Seven turnovers (not all on Jake, of course, as he was benched) will cause you many, many problems.

Steelers 13, Titans 10. I know I should have watched this, because it featured "real-man" football, but I just couldn't be bothered. I will say that I don't understand the love for Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, he makes some plays, but usually there's a reason his team needs him to make a fourth-quarter comeback - because he's played lousy for three quarters and the team is either losing of playing down to the level of their competition. The defense saves that team way too much. Yes, I'm jealous that Big Ben has two Super Bowl rings. That doesn't change the fact that he's not that excellent. He's a top ten quarterback in the league, sure, but he's not top five.

Falcons 19, Dolphins 7. I watched exactly none of this game. Hey, Atlanta won! Good for them! The Dolphins will find out that last year's playoff run is a mirage, I think.

Broncos 12, Bengals 7. Woody! has to be dying inside after the events of this game. I turned it on at the perfect time - the last 30 seconds. Prior to that, it seemed like a snorefest, but a snorefest that it appeared Cincinnati had won when they scored a touchdown with 38 seconds left. Denver was backed up at its 13 and all hope seemed lost. Then Kyle Orton threw a pass to Brandon Marshall, who was covered by three defenders. If he catches it, he probably gets tackled in bounds and I don't think the Broncos could have gotten a few more plays off to get into field goal range. It's no guarantee that he would catch it, either. But one of the defenders in front of him leaps in the air and tips the ball. Unfortunately, he tips it straight up and in front of him a few feet, right into the arms of ... Brandon Stokely, receiver for the Broncos. As everyone appeared to be covering Marshall, there was no one between Stokely and the end zone, and he scored the winning touchdown with 11 seconds left. Man, what a way to lose. I don't think either of these teams has reason to be optimistic.

Vikings 34, Browns 20. Dear sweet Jebus, it's yet another year with Brett "Risen Christ" Favre on an NFL roster. I like how he said that his daughters told him that he should come back to get another Super Bowl ring. Yeah, right. His daughters are probably saying to him, "Hey, are you really my daddy? Because when you're gone for six months out of the year, Mommy hangs out with the landscaper a lot." The nice thing is that there seems to be a bit of backlash against R. C., mainly because of that crackback block he laid on that dude in the preseason game. I'm sure the media will quickly revert to worshipful form, but it was nice them get their heads out of their asses for a bit. Anyway, R. C. is supposed to lead this immensely talented Minnesota team to the Promised Land (that would be just like the Risen Christ, wouldn't it?), but the Vikings are classic underachievers (people claim the Eagles are underachievers, but at least they get to NFC Championship Games and the occasional Super Bowl) and there's no reason to think this year will be any different, especially once R. C. starts seething with jealousy over the attention paid to Adrian Peterson and begins to hurl the ball around like it was 1996. And he will. Peterson, meanwhile, put up typically monster numbers against a completely overmatched Cleveland team. Good job, Adrian - let's see you do that in the playoffs. Speaking of the Browns ... well, maybe we shouldn't. Thanks for playing, Cleveland - better luck next year!

Colts 14, Jaguars 12. I watched one play in this game. Nothing to say, really. It was closer than I would have expected, because I don't think Jacksonville is very good, but maybe the Colts aren't as good we think either. Who knows.

Saints 45, Lions 27. Man, whenever I looked up, Drew Brees had thrown another touchdown pass. Sure, it was against Detroit (I think they're at 18 losses in a row now), but that's still impressive. Next week they invade Philadelphia, and I fear for that game now that McNabb is (probably) out. Of course, any hope New Orleans has a postseason glory rested in their defense, and allowing Detroit 27 points (granted, one touchdown was a fumble recovery) isn't that great. Matthew Stafford got picked three times, but turnovers are largely luck, so I wouldn't hang my hat on that. Detroit was anemic offensively, but they did manage to move it a little bit (thanks to three Saints turnovers), so if the Saints play a team that can play a little defense (like the Eagles), they might be trouble. Still, New Orleans is fun to watch. And they'll probably be right there with Atlanta at the end of the year for the division, because Carolina and Tampa won't be.

Cowboys 34, Buccaneers 21. Right before Tony Romo unloaded an 80-yard touchdown pass that iced the game, the announcers said something to the effect that if you didn't look at the score, you'd think Tampa was winning the game, because they were outplaying the 'Boys. Not 30 seconds later, Romo chucked his backbreaker. I don't think Dallas is going to be very good this year, but they do have big-play capability, which can cover up a lot of flaws. They got three touchdown passes of 42, 66, and 80 yards, which accounted for 188 of Romo's 353 yards - or 53% of his total, in 3 completions. Tampa gained almost as much as Dallas, but couldn't get a play or two that gained big yards, so they couldn't keep up with the scoring. Of course, a team that doesn't give up big plays will pummel Dallas. I'm not a huge fan of Carnell Williams, but it was pretty cool to see him run well for Tampa after two years of recovering from injuries. Gruden ran him waaaaay too much in his rookie year - fans are probably hoping the new coach doesn't make the same mistake.

Ravens 38, Chiefs 24. I guess I should have watched some of this game, because it seems it was pretty entertaining. But I didn't. How impressive is Joe Flacco? Man, if Baltimore's offense plays like that all the time, they could be scary good.

Jets 24, Texans 7. Hey, remember the good old days of, say, Saturday, when all the "experts" had Houston as a sexy playoff pick? And how they were starting the season at home against a rookie quarterback, so it would be easy for them to go 1-0? Yeah, well, Mark Sanchez showed the experts, didn't he? He looked fairly impressive, I'd say. I'm not sure why a lot of people like the Texans. I've never been impressed with them, even when they win. Maybe they'll win someday, but not this year. And Sanchez will come back to earth, I think. Or maybe he's just that good.

Giants 23, Washington 17. New York is good. Washington is not. 'Nuff said.

49ers 20, Cardinals 16. Talk radio folk here in the Basin are living in a dream world, where Arizona didn't barely make the playoffs and just happened to get hot at the right time and instead went 14-2 for the fifth straight year and are shoe-ins to win the NFC West again. Last year they barely escaped one game against San Francisco, and this year they couldn't escape. They were the same old Cardinals - committing 12 (!) penalties and turning the ball over twice. Their defense played fairly well until it really mattered, and then San Francisco, with no help from Frank Gore, drove 80 yards in something like 7 minutes to score the game-winning touchdown. Good job, Cardinals! San Francisco isn't any good, either, but at least they're hungry. Arizona has acted all off-season like a 9-7 record gives them the division this year by default. Um, not quite. I will say that Adrian Wilson was penalized for hitting Vernon Davis under the new rules about not hitting "defenseless receivers." I didn't see the hit, but if the NFL continues "protecting" all the offensive players, why not just make it flag football? Apparently Wilson's hit was perfectly legal under the old rules, and he didn't lead with his helmet and he didn't hit Davis in the head. He hit him in the chest with his shoulder, but because Davis wasn't looking, he was "defenseless." Maybe if I see the hit I'll feel differently, but this is a bit ridiculous. Come on, NFL! Let them play!

Seahawks 28, Rams 0. Man, St. Louis is lousy. Really lousy. When your best offensive weapon is your punter, that ain't good. Seattle looks like they're back, as long as Hasselbeck doesn't get hurt. Of course, it's fairly easy to look good against the Rams.

Packers 21, Da Bears 15. Man, it sucks to be Brian Urlacher today - gone for the season. It seems like, from what I saw of the game, Da Bears played a lot better than the Pack, but of course, it comes down to turnovers, and Jay Cutler kept throwing interceptions. Cutler is just not a great quarterback - he's fool's gold, I tells ya! Chicago will probably still be pretty good, but they're not going far in the playoffs if they even make it. And it looks like it's Green Bay's division to lose. Now that R. C. Favre is gone, I no longer hate the Pack, so that's cool with me.

Over in college football, Penn State was on cruise control for the second straight week in dominating Syracuse. I'm not convinced they're the fifth-best team in the country, but they haven't played very well at all and they've still cruised. And they won't be tested next week against Temple, for crying out loud. The other "good" team in the Big Eleven, Ohio State, played amazingly conservatively at home against USC, which is never a good idea, and they lost late. Fortune favors the bold, Jim Tressel! Ohio State played better than the Trojans for 50 minutes, but couldn't put them away. I was rooting for Michigan against Notre Dame, because I don't hate Michigan as much as Notre Dame, and I always want the Big Eleven to win those high-profile games. I still don't think the Wolverines are all that great, but I think this game may have killed Charlie Weis. Houston beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but do we hear how lousy the Big XII is? UCLA beat Tennessee in Knoxville, but do we hear how lousy the SEC is? I just get tired of the Big Eleven bashing. Yes, Michigan State should have beat Central Michigan, but CMU is a pretty good team. It's just annoying that everyone bashes the Big Eleven, even if the conference often deserves it. The way parity has come into college football, there are very teams that are completely easy wins. And Florida schedules all of them!

So that's the week. Not a bad one in football world, in terms of entertainment. Your opinion may vary based on how your team did, but the games in which I had no stake were pretty entertaining. We'll just see if Kevin Kolb can actually play next week! Yay!

(I got the image from here, where they have 101 attractive and probably faux redheads. Just in case you were wondering.)

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Dokken versus chicken

This is a funny commercial. Even if you don't know who Dokken is. And if you don't know who Dokken is, you should be ashamed. Why don't you love America?

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I've been meaning to write about racism, but I've been too scared

I'm not racist. Not even a little bit. I reject Avenue Q's song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" completely (and, even though I haven't seen the show, I know that's satirical, but still). I'm not racist.

How can I, a middle-class white man, make that statement? I mean, I must be, as the song says, a little bit racist, right? I must harbor some resentment toward people who aren't white people, right? I'm deluding myself, right?

Well, I don't think so. I know that some people are racist, and I know I'm not perfect, but racism just isn't a part of my mental or emotional makeup. I'm not even trying to be "politically correct" and say that I'm careful never to offend people while I'm really masking my racism. I still use the term "black" more often than "African-American," and if that makes me racist, then I guess I am. But that seems silly. Everyone calls me white and not Polish-Lithuanian-German-Scotch/Irish American, and that's fine. Maybe that makes those people racist, too.

I don't know why I'm not racist. My parents don't act like racists, but they're more prejudicial than I am, and I call them on it all the time. They don't go around burning crosses, but they do make generalization based on race, and I always have to point out how silly they sound when they say it. My father is worse than my mother, but they both do it. I don't think of them as racist, but I suppose some people would. The point is: When I was growing up, they never made those statements around me (my parents, to their credit, understood that adults don't really need to discuss absolutely everything with their impressionable children, so I never knew much about my parents' political beliefs, for instance, until I was much older, because when I was 12, it wasn't any of my goddamned business), and they never did anything that was racist. It was never an issue for us. I didn't know many people of different races, because Bucks County in the 1980s was mostly white, but when I did encounter people of different races (mostly Asians, if I remember correctly), I didn't really think anything of it. They were just kids. Of course, some of the stereotypes applied, but not to the point where I could say "Man, all those Asian kids are good at math and science!" It just wasn't an issue.

It became less of an issue as I got older, because I met more and more people and learned more and more about people. I have worked with people of other races and taught people of other races, and if I was racist before (and I doubt it), I learned that you really can't generalize about people. Why this is a stunning insight I'll never know, but it seems some people still can't make it (including, occasionally, my parents). I say I'm not racist not only because I don't discriminate against people (I'm not in any position to do so, but it's not like I would anyway), but because I never make statements (or even think statements) like "Well, all black people like fried chicken." I think that's what people say when they claim that everyone is a "little bit" racist - doesn't everyone say or think something like that at some time or another? Well, I don't. I've said things like "When I taught, I noticed that many of the Hispanic kids came from single-parent households," but if that's racist, we might as well never discuss anything ever again. That's just a statement of fact based on the kids I talked to. It's certainly not generalizing, as in, "All Hispanic kids come from single-parent households." That would be untrue and racist.

I suppose it depends on your definition of racism. Have I told racist jokes before? I sure have, when I was a kid and didn't know any better. I've also told Polish jokes even though I'm Polish, so there's that. Yes, the jokes were racist, but I also had no idea that they were racist. Nobody told me, either, I just came to the realization that they were. I don't call people "Oriental" anymore, either, because those people who were offended by it said it was dismissive, and as I read exactly what "Oriental" meant, I came to realize that while I might not consider it offensive, it's defining a group of people by what they are not, i.e. European. "Oriental" is a term that Europeans used to define something exotic, and it's outdated. I don't think it's politically correct to call someone Asian (or, better yet, by their specific nationality), but if it is, so be it. Similarly, I don't think calling someone "black" is racist, mainly because I see far too many "African-Americans" calling themselves "black." Of course, many African-Americans call themselves the "n" word, too, but I never use that because, well, it's racist. It saddens me when black people call themselves the "n" word, as well.

Again, it gets back to your definition of racism. Is it racist to look at demographics and state facts that can be gleaned from them? Is it racist to point out that Pine Ridge, the reservation in South Dakota that is famous because of the Leonard Peltier case, is the poorest place in the United States? I suppose it's racist to draw conclusions about all Indians (whoops, can I not use that term, even though many Natives use it?) from the example of Pine Ridge, but some people say we can't even draw conclusions about the residents of Pine Ridge from the example of Pine Ridge. Again, how can we ever fix the problems of minorities in this country if anyone who addresses them is shouted down with charges of racism? I know my history, and I know that the problems faced by minorities are largely "not their fault." However, at some point, someone - black or white or yellow or red - has to talk about what can be done to alleviate those problems and what everyone - not just white people, not just black people - can do to move forward. It's too easy to shout "racism" and ignore anyone who doesn't agree with you.

I write this because of many factors, but Roger's Labor Day post helped spur me on. In that post, he links to a letter from the editor in GQ magazine (yeah, I know) in which the editor writes about having a discussion about race and how the president needs to start one. This ties into Roger's larger theme about how civil discourse has become decidedly less civil, to the point where people at a town hall health care meeting heckled a woman in a wheelchair who was worried about losing her coverage. Yes, a woman in a wheelchair. Later on in the video, two interesting things occurred: One man, who was interviewed about it, said he wasn't at the meeting to listen to anyone's opinions (what, pray tell, are the town hall meetings for, then?) and another person, commenting on the story, claimed that if you're a Republican, you're evil and racist and ugly and you don't like porn. Okay, maybe not that last part, but he basically stereotyped all Republicans as hateful people, which seemed to me as bad as heckling someone at a town hall meeting who doesn't agree with you. That's why we never have frank discussions about race - because it's far too easy to shout, and if we disagree on health insurance, can you imagine the bile that will be unleashed if President Obama started a national discussion about racism?

I'm certainly not condoning racism. I know it's still far too prevalent in this country. When my parents, who are extremely tolerant people, can say things like "Well, that's just the way Hispanics are," I know that plenty of people harbor far uglier thoughts. But it's never fun, no matter how ugly your beliefs are, to be yelled at about them. If we begin a discussion about race, minorities will have to get used to the fact that there are some really, really stupid people out there - and guess what? Some of them are minorities! Yelling at racists won't change their minds; it will simply entrench their opinions more. Some people think, "Well, it's fine that I yell, because I don't want to engage racists in meaningful conversation anyway," but that seems like a silly opinion to have, especially if you want to change minds. If you want to feel morally superior to people, yelling at them is fine. But to change someone's mind, you have to understand why they feel a certain way. Most people don't want to know why someone is racist, they just want them to stop being racist. Similarly, most racists don't want to talk about it, because they think they'll get yelled at. Most racists, I would guess, are "casual" racists, like my parents, who wouldn't dream of discriminating against someone based on their race but think nothing of making generalizations based on race. So they would be appalled that someone thinks they're racist and would immediately get defensive. There's room for leeway on both sides. And, of course, it's very difficult to bring it up with anyone, because even racists are aware of the ugly history of racism. If it's your family, you might be able to bring it up (as I do with my parents, even though I never say they're racists), but it's something you just don't bring up with people, even if they're close friends, unless it gets obvious. I certainly don't blame people for never speaking of it; nobody wants to admit they make racist statements, even if they aren't aggressive racists.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I have a feeling I know why I'm not racist. Part of it is because my family was never one to put pressure on the kids to conform. We had a strong family structure (and my grandparents were racist in the way that people born in the first two decades of the twentieth century were; i.e., they were raised with certain attitudes and never gave them much thought, but they didn't go around burning crosses and lynching people, either), but it was never a case of my grandfather or father sitting me down and explaining what the world was like and if I was a real Burgas I'd think that way too. It's no revelation to say that racism is learned, and I think a lot of it has to do with parents and grandparents making a concerted effort to "indoctrinate" their children. My parents never believed in that. They raised me by example, and generally, their example was a good one (as I wrote, they rarely discussed "adult" topics with me). I learned from their actions that we should treat people as individuals, so even if they thought all Pakistanis, for instance, were raving Muslims lunatics (they didn't), I'd never know, and the only Pakistani I ever met was a wonderful man who made us dinner one night, and damn! it was tasty. Many young people learn to parrot their parents' prejudices, and by the time they start thinking for themselves, it's too late. The other reason I'm not racist, of course, is where I grew up. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and was exposed early on to a relatively liberal lifestyle (my parents voted for Ronald Reagan, I know, but it's not like they were hardcore Republicans - they just didn't like Carter). And I went to college, where any prejudices I might have had (and I don't recall having any) were blown up fairly quickly. I just never cared about someone's label. Again, maybe early on I wasn't exposed to large groups of a certain stereotype living up to that stereotype, so I didn't get a chance to "learn" that "all" of a certain minority was lazy or drunk or angry or dumb, and by the time I met members of those minorities I was smart enough to realize that one drunk person doesn't mean everyone of that group is drunk.

One thing that seems crucial for combatting racism is thinking about our attitudes toward the world, something I do maybe even too often. Whenever I ask my parents to "prove" what they're generalizing, they sputter a retraction and we all move on. If you ask racists where they get their information, they either retreat further into name-calling or they're forced to realize they don't have accurate information. At least then they're exposed and they might be forced to re-evaluate their thoughts. Many don't, of course, but instead of yelling at them, people should ask them why they believe what they do and try to get them to admit it's all anecdotal, based on one experience they had when they were 12 years old, or it's something "their Daddy always said." People don't think enough these days, and it's frustrating. One thing I appreciate about my father is that he does a lot of research before he makes up his mind. Once he makes up his mind, his opinion tends to calcify into hard certainty even if new evidence comes to light, but at least he does research beforehand. I know that education won't solve all our problems, but it's a start.

I don't mean to be so self-congratulatory in this post, because I'm well aware of my shortcomings. Racism just isn't one of them. And I don't think I'm alone in this. I've never heard my lovely wife express any sort of racist sentiment. Beyond that, I'd like to think most of the people I've met in my life aren't given to generalizing based on race, but, like I mentioned above, it's very difficult to tell. But I do reject the idea that "everyone's a little bit racist." You might think that would make it easier to discuss racism. I think it puts people on edge and less trusting. If I ever meet Roger (although then I'd have to go to Albany, and who wants that?), I'd like to think we could meet without either of us thinking to ourselves, "Well, this guy is white/black, so he has some attitudes about things that are common to his race." That seems awfully shallow.

Or maybe I am just deluding myself. Maybe I'm a raving racist and I just don't know it. That would be weird.

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"Cool kids never have the time"

As we reach Labor Day, I ought to post this, because it's about summertime, more specifically the summer of 1979. Thirty years ago, in May 1979, I moved from Liederbach, West Germany, to Warminster, Pennsylvania. My family had moved to Germany from Warminster in 1975 when my dad's company, Sperry Univac, asked him to take a job in Europe. My mother, always one to leap on a chance to travel, told him it was a great idea. Four years later we moved back. I spent one month in second grade (I turned eight in May 1979), then experienced my first summer (that I can remember) in Pennsylvania. Thirty years later, it's still the best summer I ever had.

We lived on a street (my house was here!) with a bunch of families with younger kids, so it was kind of a paradise. Behind me lived my best friends, Frank and Dave Alvaro, who are twins and are a few months younger than I am (and yes, it's the same Dave whose wedding I missed a few years ago; it became moot that I missed it last year, when he split up with his wife), but on my street we had a bunch of other kids. They were all about the same age, too - at eight, I was about in the middle of the bunch, age-wise. Down the street were the oldest kids around, and they might have been 11. Our next-door neighbors had a younger daughter who was probably six. We had about 15 kids living either on the street or on the street behind us, where Frank and Dave lived. It was kind of the perfect storm for fun, and we took advantage.

All summer we played with each other. This was, of course, in the era before hundreds of channels on television, and it was summer anyway, so nothing was on. It was also before video games went nuts, so nobody was playing those. We watched a few cartoons (I'm not sure if Star Blazers had hit the United States yet, because that was one for which Frank, David, and I stopped everything to watch), but nothing really distracted us too much from enjoying the outdoors. I had brought a giant ball back from Germany. It was about waist-high on us kids, and it was painted like a soccer ball. We decided we were going to play "Kick the Can" all day, every day. Of course, we didn't use a can. We used my giant ball.

I don't know if you've ever played "Kick the Can," but here it is: Someone is "It," and someone else kicks the ball as far as they can. We kicked it up the street, because our street was on a slight incline and kicking it down the street would have meant it would have rolled forever. Once the ball is kicked, everyone else ran and hid while the person who's "It" went and got the ball. Then the "It" person would place the ball at a set place (this was a lamp post on our front yard, because our house was centrally located) and start looking for the others. When the "It" person caught one person, he or she would escort that person back to "jail," which is where the ball is, usually. When they caught everyone, someone else would be "It." Yay!

Of course, there's a catch. At any time, a person who hasn't been caught yet can run to the ball and kick it, thereby freeing all the prisoners and making the "It" person start all over again. In our neighborhood, this was ridiculously easy, and therefore the "It" person could remain "It" for many, many hours. Why we kept playing remains a mystery. Perhaps it was the great many places to hide in our neighborhood.

We had a blast playing "Kick the Can." Back then, very few people had fences in their yards, so the kids could easily move through back yards to various hiding places (upon reflection, this may have been why some people started putting up fences, but we were kids - what did we care?). We had to make boundaries for where you could hide, too, because otherwise someone might end up on a different street altogether. For three months, we played "Kick the Can" almost every day. It really was a wonderful time, because all the kids were at an age when they still liked to play together. By the next summer, some of the kids were 12 and beginning to hang out with the older kids and didn't want to be seen with 9-year-olds. And, of course, as we got older, we didn't want to hang out with the kids who were a few years younger than we were (even though my next-door neighbor grew up to be a hottie - but that was a decade later). At night we would play "Flashlight Tag" or "Ghost in the Graveyard," two more hiding and seeking games. None of us were old enough for jobs, so we had no place to be and nothing to do except have fun. And we did.

It's very odd how this era came to an end, because it was almost poetic and something you might see in a sepia-toned movie about the loss of childhood innocence. We all went back to school in the autumn of 1979, me to third grade (where I was the first teacher who had a real positive influence on me in terms of making learning fun; before that I enjoyed school, but I didn't really think it was that important) and the others to their various grades. One day my soccer ball, which I left out at night, ended up in a neighbor's yard a few doors down, where their dog popped it somehow. I found it and wept (okay, not really, but I was kind of sad). It signaled the end of the summer, somehow, and the next summer, we didn't even try to recreate the magic from the year before. That's not to say I didn't have a wonderful time, but it wasn't the same. As I mentioned, some of the kids grew up just enough that they didn't want to hang out with us, and I also made some other friends from my school who lived near me, so Frank and Dave and I played with them. (I never stopped hanging out with Frank and Dave, who remain some of my best friends to this day. I mean, they lived behind me, for crying out loud, and were three months younger than I was. And they're awesome. What was I going to do, stop hanging out with them?) We played different games, watched more television than we should have (still not as much as some kids), and I started riding my bicycle a lot more to more distant places (not too far away, of course - I wasn't even a teenager yet) and I started reading more, going well on my way down the path to nerdiness. I had a wonderful childhood and adolescence (much better than a lot of people, I guess, as I've heard their stories over the years), but I always look back at that summer, 30 years ago, and wonder how I got so lucky to have such a golden time. I've spoken to other people who were there in the intervening years, and they agree with me, so it wasn't just me viewing it through rose-colored glasses.

I just find it strange that it was 30 years ago. The oddest thing about growing older is not the way you feel, because I still feel fairly young (and I am, I know, but I'm not as young as I used to be), but that you can remember things that happened decades ago. Not just years, whole ten-year bunches. I remember when I graduated from high school and thought about the ten years that had passed since I moved back to the U. S. and thought that was a long time. Ah, how foolish I was.

Anyway, I just thought it would be fun to share a nice memory with you. Take it as you will.

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What I've been reading

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind. 1998, Simon and Schuster, 506 pages.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before how much I like not only the thing, but how the thing is made, and therefore I love reading books about how, say, movies are made almost as much as the movie itself. So I was jazzed to read this book, which is about the seismic shift in Hollywood from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. In that decade, a slew of new directors changed the way movies were made and how they were perceived. Biskind's book is pretty fascinating, and it's amazing that it's so, mainly because I hated pretty much everyone in this book. Yes, hated!

It's not surprising to anyone that creative types in a highly competitive business are often evil, but it's strange that every creative type in this book, with one exception, comes off as a complete scumbag. That one exception is Steven Spielberg, and from what the people in the book say, that might be because he's not a true "artiste." But we'll get back to that! (I should point out that a lot of the women come off pretty well, but that might be because this time period was still notable for its sexism, despite the women's movement.)

Biskind begins in the mid-1960s, when Hollywood had become a bit staid and conservative and moviegoers were abandoning theaters in droves. Television had taken a huge chunk out of their audience, and the owners of the movie companies, all old men, some of whom from the earliest days of Hollywood, no longer had any idea how to connect to the younger audiences. Into this mess came a bunch of directors and producers (and, to a lesser extent, writers and actors) who had been influenced by French New Wave and even Americans like Orson Welles (who became, in the 1970s, a patron saint of these men, who loathed how he had been treated by Hollywood) and wanted to make movies in that vein for an American audience. Biskind begins with Bonnie and Clyde, which shattered the perceptions of what a gangster movie could be and made Warren Beatty one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He follows that up with Dennis Hopper's Easy Riders, which made a boatload of money and pointed the way to low-budget movies that connected with the hippie generation. By the end of the 1960s, the New Hollywood was off and running and ready for the 1970s, one of the most creative eras in moviemaking ever.

Biskind tells the story in a sprawling thematic fashion, focusing on certain movies and individual directors, jumping back and forth in time to cover what he sees as the major signpost movies along the way. He covers the ones you'd expect - The Godfathers, Apocalypse Now, The French Connection, The Exorcist, The Last Picture Show, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Five Easy Pieces, M*A*S*H - and some you might not expect, such as those of Lucas and Spielberg. The book is really about the directors, as the 1970s were their Golden Age, so he gives us good character sketches of Hopper, Robert Altman, Bob Rafelson, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Paul Schrader, Hal Ashby (whose death he sees as the symbolic end of the era), Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Spielberg. He gets into the directors' battles over creative control with the heads of the studios, who had never been challenged before. As their movies made money, the directors were able to gain more and reach higher, and Biskind's prose is thrilling as he discusses this. It's astonishing that he makes the dirty business of making movies (I mean, come on, they're only movies) sound so noble.

Of course, this is a "rise and fall" story, so the directors overreach, as many of them began to believe that they could write and produce, cutting everyone out of the process. As more than a few observers point out, very few of them were true "auteurs," so they couldn't write a good script or produce a good movie, and when they started alienating everyone who could, they turned out horrible movies. It's interesting that one of the few American "auteurs," Woody Allen, gets barely a mention in this book (and that to point out that he was, in fact, an auteur), perhaps because he was able to make the kinds of movies that these complicated directors wanted to make, and therefore wasn't as interesting. One of the weaknesses of the book is that Biskind tends to ignore a lot of movies that were important in the 1970s (A Clockwork Orange comes to mind), but if we recognize that he's not necessarily writing a history of the movies but a history of a group of directors who, to one degree or another, self-destructed like Icarus, it becomes less egregious. As the directors spiral out of control, Biskind does a good job getting all the dirt on them (he notes when people disagree on facts, but it happens surprisingly little) and showing how horrible they really were. Hopper is insane, Coppola is megalomaniacal, Scorsese is paranoid, Bogdanovich is vain, Friedkin is mean, and they're all doing copious amounts of drugs that don't help. It seems that very few of them made great movies after they became powerful, and only when they were brought low could they reinvent themselves. Some, like Bogdanovich (and, to a lesser extent, Coppola), never recovered. Some, like Scorsese, recovered almost in spite of themselves. Biskind writes this as a Greek tragedy, which is fine, but because there are almost no likable characters, it's hard to care all that much. Biskind, along with his subjects, seem to have an elevated idea of what movies mean, and although I love movies, I recognize that there might - just might - be more important things in the world. These directors, it seems, took far too long to figure that out.

Perhaps that's why Spielberg, and to a lesser extent Lucas, come off relatively well in the book. Lucas is, like every other director in the book, a control freak, but he takes it to a new level. Biskind seems to share the other directors' dismissive attitude toward Lucas, but he's the only one who created an independent entity that was able to be profitable and compete with the major studios. Of course, capturing the zeitgeist with Star Wars helped, but it was only with the success of The Empire Strikes Back was Lucas able to strike out totally on his own. But Lucas still comes off a bit like the emperor in the Star Wars saga - hiding out in the shadows, cloaked in mystery, slowly retreating more and more from the world. Spielberg, on the other hand, seems to be the only one who recognizes what movies are, and even though he cheat on Amy Irving, she's so mean to him you almost can't blame him. Spielberg is also held up to scorn by the subjects of the book, but he's also the only one who seemed to escape a major flop (1941) almost unscathed. There's a nice undertone of jealousy throughout the book whenever Lucas and Spielberg come up, both by the author and by the subjects. It makes the book a bit more interesting.

Ultimately, Biskind is a bit too in love with the decade, but at least he wears his heart on his sleeve. Yes, a lot of the movies of the Eighties were soulless corporate products, but perhaps that's because the directors of the Seventies screwed up so badly. They allowed their budgets to bloat so that their movies weren't profitable anymore, and so big-budget directors who could deliver as many dollars as possible came into vogue. The directors became so obsessed with power that they shut down producers, writers, and even actors occasionally, so the studio heads began to see less of those people too and began looking for the big explosion instead of the major star. Biskind never addresses that perhaps it wasn't only Spielberg's genius of reading the audience that changed the movies, but also the the egos of the directors. That's really the tragedy of this book - that talented people were allowed to run riot and destroyed a system without really replacing it with anything. After a decade of rule, the directors ate themselves and the studios just moved back in. Coppola wanted to create an alternative studio, Lucas sort of did, but nobody seemed to have a plan about what to do once they stormed the gates. They looked around, saw all the loot, and just started seizing it for themselves. Biskind's book is a fascinating portrait of this crazy time, and it's worth checking out for all the behind-the-scenes stuff about the movies and the lives of these men, who drank, smoked, and snorted anything they could get their hands on, blithely cheated on women who had supported them, and went a bit nuts when they got the keys to the kingdom. It's a gripping read, and I'd like to check out the other books that Biskind has written about the movie industry.

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